Renowned Organic Garden In Nearby Durham Devastated by Storm

Starlight Gardens, the season extension farm on Fowler Avenue in Durham, lost five of its six hoop houses during last weekend's blizzard.


Hundreds of farm structures, including five hoop houses at Starlight Gardens in nearby Durham, were destroyed during last weekend's record breaking snow storm.

On Thursday, state Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky visited the farm off Fowler Avenue to get a look at the damage firsthand and to meet with owners David and Ty Zemelsky.

"To see this kind of damage and to know what the personal toll is on individual farm families is hard. We're hoping people will rebound and rebuild," Reviczky said.

Metal frames collapse under weight of snow

The Zemelsky's lost all but one of their hoop houses last Saturday when the structures' metal frames collapsed under the weight of three feet of snow. Statewide, about 250 farm structures had met a similar fate during the storm, according to Reviczky.

While many growers had only recently begun sowing the seeds of spring's plants and vegetables under their hoop houses, Starlight Gardens — a year-round, certified organic farm — was in the midst of a late winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) when the structures came crashing down.

"We canceled it," said Ty Zemelsky. "We offered [customers] their money back."

Hoop houses not insurable

Unlike some farm structures, such as a metal or wooden barn, hoop houses are not insurable and in addition to the storm's financial impact, the destruction has taken a personal toll on the couple.

"All five of them were named after our five grandchildren, so there's that personal connection," said David.

Reviczky said his department was still in the early stages of collecting storm damage data but noted that the state is committed to helping farmers.

State looking for financial resources to help

"Gov. Malloy has asked me to look at grant programs that the state currently has to see if we can't modify the requirements for those grants and see what financial resources we might be able to put toward getting people back up and running," he said.

In 2011, Starlight's largest hoop house — then 144 feet long — collapsed in a snow storm. The five hoop houses destroyed last weekend had stood since 1999 when the couple launched the season-extension farm. 

Still, under the twisted metal beams and torn sheets of plastic, which still manage to hold snow just a few inches off the ground, are rows upon rows of spinach.

"That one, there's a fair amount of spinach in it. I'm gonna get some stuff out of that and go to a market Saturday. We'll make a couple hundred bucks and it's just going to feel psychologically good to do something," said Zymelsky.

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